If you have never been to the Gospel Mission to see for yourself what goes on there, you might be surprised. Manager Randy Benson will almost guarantee it.
This time of year, Benson sees plenty of new faces as Christmas volunteers, but it’s an operation of size and scale few expect.
“Ninety per cent of the time, if they haven’t been here before, volunteers say I had no idea that you do all of this, had no idea we have a barber shop and dental office… no idea that so many people come through here.”
The shelter provides three squares a day for up to 90 men as well as lunch and dinner for any man, woman and child in the line. That’s about 300 meals every day.
The Gospel Mission has its annual Christmas dinner this Saturday at the Habitat and its often where new volunteers emerge and see it’s not just meals at Christmas.
“What gets them is that we do this 365 days a year,” Benson says.
Like many local charitable organizations, Christmas is a busy season for the Gospel Mission, mostly because it’s a season for giving and donations in December help make sure the operation keeps going year round. Cash is always needed but food in large supply, blankets and clothing are other good ways you can help. There’s always someone who needs it.
“Every guy here has a different story; some guys who have been working and had housing but they lost their job and then their housing. Some are in from out of town, they come for a new start and it’s not what they thought it might be. A lot of guys are dealing with addictions and/or mental illness so that requires getting them into poroper care and recovery they need. You have some guys here as a result of poor choices and some with plain bad luck,” he says.
But volunteers give the shelter more than simple cash or donations can. It shows people the magnitude of the operation and a first hand view of the people they are helping. It’s not always what people expect, he says.
“My niece is a good example,” he says. “She said when I first went in there I was fearful but soon she made some great friends. She said the people you serve are great, they are there because of bad luck or have disabilities or something but when you get to know the people, you realize they are not much different from you and me and most of us are one paycheque from being in that situation too.”
Some businesses put together special days where they donate food and labour and sponsor one entire meal. Others are just trying to do their part, but volunteers are also one of the reasons they are so busy through the holidays as each one needs orientation.
What Benson hopes they take away is a greater understanding. It’s not just a soup kitchen or a shelter. Their goal is to lead people to wholeness, he says. Each of their charges is eventually required to see a caseworker who can help them get what they need, either for recovery, medicine, some fresh clothes and good night’s sleep. Sometimes that is all it takes to give someone a fresh start.
He’s heard the criticism before that they are simply enabling people to remain homeless; giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish.
“My response to that is always: It is hard to teach a person to fish if he’s hungry. People say go get a job but if he is hungry, hasn’t slept, hasn’t shaved or had a hot shower, it’s hard to be motivated to go get a job and harder to get it,” he says. “Simply understanding gets someone in a place where they can learn to fish.”
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